Federal officials will preserve more land surrounding the site of one of the deadliest military attacks on Native people in U.S. history.
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced on Wednesday that the United States bought nearly 3,500 acres of Colorado prairie land to expand the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site. In 1864, soldiers attacked hundreds of Cheyenne and Arapaho families camping for the winter along the creek. More than 230 Native people, mostly women and children, were killed.
“We will never forget the hundreds of lives that were brutally taken here — men, women and children murdered in an unprovoked attack,” Haaland said in a written statement. “Stories like the Sand Creek Massacre are not easy to tell but it is my duty — our duty — to ensure that they are told.”
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Haaland and National Park Service Director Chuck Sams gathered at the site Wednesday with leaders of the tribes whose relatives were killed, wounded and forced out of Colorado: the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes, now based in Oklahoma; the Northern Arapaho Tribe, based in Wyoming; and the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, based in Montana. Colorado’s U.S. senators and other state leaders also attended the event.
The Sand Creek Massacre historic site, located 115 miles east of Pueblo, was established in 2007. But tribal historians believe the attack also occurred on nearby land that remained in private hands.
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Federal officials did not disclose the purchase price of the additional 3,500 acres but said three nonprofits helped cover the cost. They described the newly acquired land as vital to preserve for many reasons, including that it may have been where Cheyenne and Arapaho families were camped before the attack, site superintendent Janet Frederick said.
With the added acreage, the site is now one of the largest shortgrass prairies on federal land.
The land purchase is the latest move during Haaland’s time leading the Department of the Interior to protect places and landmarks considered sacred or significant to Indigenous people. In September, her agency changed the name of hundreds of places on public lands to erase a racist term for Native Americans. She has also made public lands more accessible for cultural practices and brought in tribal nations to help manage the lands where they have lived for centuries.
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Haaland and Sams are both the first Native American people in their roles overseeing tribal relations and federal lands. Haaland is an enrolled member of the Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico. Sams is Cayuse and Walla Walla and is an enrolled member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Oregon.
Molly Young covers Indigenous affairs for the USA Today Network's Sunbelt Region. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 405-347-3534.
This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: US buys land to expand Sand Creek Massacre site in Colorado